A Syrian-American and former West Virginia resident is at the center of a political debate about refugees after talking to Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush about her family during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire.
Nora Barre, 34, of New Hampshire, formerly of Charleston and Hurricane, said she dropped what she was doing Wednesday and drove an hour and 15 minutes from her home when she heard about the town hall meeting to take place later that evening in Bedford, New Hampshire. She was determined to be called on to ask a question, she said.
“He called on me and I was so emotional,” Barre said. “I wanted to say so many things and I couldn’t. I was shaking and starting to cry.”
Barre is raising money to bring 14 of her family members, all from Aleppo, to the United States. Bush reportedly said the United States should provide support for the refugees.
After the town hall, according to Reuters, he told reporters that he would not “send them [Syrian refugees] all back to a hell hole,” and that “We have a global tradition of taking care of refugees ... we’ve done it since the beginning of time.” Bush reportedly said he would take in every Christian who is persecuted.
Barre said Bush “nailed [the issue] on the head.”
He said that if there was a no-fly zone in Syria refugees could begin to go back home, she said.
“He understood completely the issue and he was so kind,” Barre said. “His staffers took my contact information and after the town hall was over, he gave me a hug.”
Barre said Bush emailed her after the meeting, thanking her for coming to the meeting and telling her he would pray for her family’s safety.
Bush’s comments were in stark contrast to those of Donald Trump, who spoke to a crowd in Keene, New Hampshire, during his own town hall meeting Wednesday night.
“I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, if I win, they’re going back,” Trump reportedly said.
Barre grew up in Kanawha City and attended Kanawha City Elementary, John Adams Middle School and George Washington and Hurricane high schools. She graduated from Marshall University and lived in West Virginia until she was 26. She, her husband and their 5-year-old daughter recently moved to New Hampshire, where her husband has a fellowship at Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system.
Barre said she had been working to get her family members out of Syria for five years. Eleven of them are now living in one apartment in Turkey, but Turkey is not a permanent solution, she said. Syrian refugees can’t legally work in Turkey. She and her friends are supporting them now.
She recounted the many horrors her family members were witness to while they lived in Syria. An apartment building in front of her grandmother’s home was blown up. The blast shattered the woman’s windows.
“How do you survive mentally when you see your neighbors being taken out piece by piece?” she said of her grandmother. In another instance, a sniper targeted a mother with her small child, killing the mother. When neighbors went to help the child, they too were shot and wounded, she said.
“How can you live in these conditions?” Barre said. “It’s just unbelievable.”
Her young cousins were on a bus after school one day when their school was bombed with their teachers still inside, she said.
While most of her family is in Turkey, her uncle, his wife and their small baby remain in Syria. The family stayed because the child was too small to travel. On Thursday morning, Barre hadn’t heard from the uncle in five days, she said.
Barre is hoping to raise money and support to bring her family members to the United States. She has a friend who can get them jobs, she said. She’s started an Indiegogo account to crowdfund her effort and is starting the paperwork to get them green cards. She’s hoping a church or other organization will sponsor the family to bring them to the United States.
Barre said growing up she would visit her family in Syria and tell them she loved the United States. Now she wants to show them why.
“I want them to learn the language, I want them to learn the culture,” she said. “I’m very proud of the United States.”
For more information or to help Barre’s family, see her Indiegogo page, Nora’s Fam: Rebuilding Lives of 14 Syrian Refugees.
Reach Lori Kersey at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1240 or follow @lorikerseyWV on Twitter.